Exposure to asbestos fibers is a major risk factor for malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), lung cancer, and other non-neoplastic conditions, such as asbestosis and pleural plaques. However, in the last decade many studies have shown that polymorphism in the genes involved in xenobiotic and oxidative metabolism or in DNA repair processes may play an important role in the etiology and pathogenesis of these diseases. To evaluate the association between diseases linked to asbestos and genetic variability we performed a review of studies on this topic included in the PubMed database. One hundred fifty-nine citations were retrieved; 24 of them met the inclusion criteria and were evaluated in the review. The most commonly studied GSTM1 polymorphism showed for all asbestos-linked diseases an increased risk in association with the null genotype, possibly linked to its role in the conjugation of reactive oxygen species. Studies focused on GSTT1 null and SOD2 Ala16Val polymorphisms gave conflicting results, while promising results came from studies on alpha1-antitrypsin in asbestosis and MPO in lung cancer. Among genetic polymorphisms associated to the risk of MPM, the GSTM1 null genotype and two variant alleles of XRCC1 and XRCC3 showed increased risks in a subset of studies. Results for the NAT2 acetylator status, SOD2 polymorphism and EPHX activity were conflicting. Major limitations in the study design, including the small size of study groups, affected the reliability of these studies. Technical improvements such as the use of high-throughput techniques will help to identify molecular pathways regulated by candidate genes.